- Simple works. Every time. Never underestimate the public’s unnaturally short attention span.
- Cheaper and easier tends to trump high-quality and powerful.
- Find what everyone else is doing and don’t do it.
- It’s all storytelling. And it’s better if it’s funny. (And WAY better if it’s sexy.)
- Always Be Closing (ABC)
- Find the niche, start with the tribe. You need a beachhead to launch the attack.
- Many paths to success. No one right answer.
- Even the right answer can fail. There’s always always a significant element of luck.
- Watch your cashflow.
- A blank canvas can be murder: Constraints and limitations are necessary for good development.
- For long slogs, visualize the conclusion.
- Being entrepreneurial is a personality defect--
Danny, my screenwriting brother, has long maintained his Rubrics of Writing. I've always admired that. This week I've found myself talking a lot about how I develop products, how I start projects, and what i've learned in my career. This list fell out of that work. I hope it helps someone.
Simple works. Every time. Never underestimate the public’s unnaturally short attention span.
This gets demonstrated to me everywhere I look. But the data came from Netflix. We tried many things to improve the service, improve the value for our customers, but the fact was that every time we simplified the web experience, removed some feature, retention went up. Retention was one of our objectives. Simplification directly impacted that. There are tons of examples of this across industries.
Cheaper and easier tends to trump high-quality and powerful.
I have been continuously shocked over the decades that when new formats were invented that were clearly inferior to existing formats (in terms of quality), they won out, largely due to their convenience. Audio formats, photo formats, video formats... pros still want the AIF and RAW files, but consumers want small and cheap. This fit with what I call the "Peter Principle of Products" which is that manufacturers keep adding features until their product becomes complex and nearly impossible to learn, and only appeals to the advanced existing client base, but no new users would adopt it; this makes the product ripe for disruption by a simple elegant solution. And the game starts again.
Find what everyone else is doing and don’t do it.
This one came from my mom when I was younger. There are ample good examples of competition being good and also for not going first ("pioneers get the arrows in their backs...") and you'll hear about how the iPod was NOT the first MP3 player, or how Apple came very late to the "phone" game... but the simple fact is that less competition means less risk. Why compete if you don't have to?
It’s all storytelling. And it’s better if it’s funny. (And WAY better if it’s sexy.)
You stand up and pitch. You go to meetings and you network. You post on Facebook. You educate about your product. In business this is often referred to as "communication skills" but at the end of the day, you need to be a storyteller. The story is how your product fits in the world. It's how you came to your idea. You have to describe an imaginary product or service so clearly that investors can imagine it and engineers can build it. Storytelling enrolls others--teammates, investors or customers. It's the core of marketing. Being comfortable (and good) at finding and telling these stories is central.
Always Be Closing (ABC)
You can't be here if you haven't watched Glengarry Glen Ross at least once, and perhaps memorized the "steak knives" speech. I just said it's all storytelling. To be more complete, i'd say it's all SALES. Always be selling, always be closing. Don't just "do" things, but have an objective. Entrepreneurship is selling things that don't exist. It's the hardest kind of sales.
Find the niche, start with the tribe. You need a beachhead to launch the attack.
Consumer products are the hardest things to sell. If you hear yourself say "it's for everyone" you're doomed. Better is a product for a very clear, targetable, findable, audience. Ophthalmologists. Videogame players. As you broaden the audience, noise increases, competition increases. Go bigger slowly: moms with young kids, sorority sisters, travelers to paris. You should take pause if your audience is "Men 18-45".
Many paths to success. No one right answer.
We said this a lot at Netflix. You're not looking for the path, just a path. Any path is good if it leads where you want to go. Be efficient later. The odds that you find it are relatively small, so think broadly.
Even the right answer can fail. There’s always always a significant element of luck.
For every successful YouTube and Facebook there were a host of very very similar products that failed. The formula for success is complicated: a great team, a great market, a great product... all of these put the odds in your favor. But at the end of the day it's just dumb luck. Luck that someone else didn't enter the field of competition at the wrong moment, luck that the government changed some law this year, luck that the video went viral... it's not ALL luck, but to disregard how much is luck is disingenuous and dangerous.
Watch your cashflow.
This is still business. Everything costs money. And running out of money is death. You don't know how long it will take to succeed. Maybe never. But to give yourself the best chance of success you have to watch the cash, give yourself as long a runway as you can muster, cut costs to the point of pain, and know basics of running a business whether you're the engineer or the sales guy. Undercapitalization is the single biggest killer of small business. (I didn't look that up, but i'd guess it's true.)
A blank canvas can be murder: Constraints and limitations are necessary for good development.
I think it's far easier to improve on things than invent them from whole cloth. Whether this is remodeling a house or editing a movie, it's the constraints that make it fun. It's problem solving as opposed to art. I'm all for art. But it's a tough business. Ask a writer. Nothing is harder to look at than a blank page.
For long slogs, visualize the conclusion.
You don't want a blank canvas for your objective. You want it very clear. For me this means that when I start a book or app, i spend too much time designing the cover or icon and put them up near where i'm working. By the time the book is done it's never the final cover, but that's not the point. The point is that while working I look up at the cover and think "there it is, it's almost done, now i just have these pesky details to fill in." It helps.
Being entrepreneurial is a personality defect.
It is. Mostly it's being delusional. The odds of anything you do working and succeeding are astronomically small. Didn't Han Solo say "Never tell me the odds"? You'd have to be self deluded to believe that you can do better, that you can make a difference, you can best the incumbent, you can disrupt the status quo--in spite of the odds. But there you have it. You do. And you can. And believing this is essential. It's fucked up.
So good luck out there. I hope this was as useful a romp for you as it was for me.